It is my pleasure to present Cricket McRae, a Northern Colorado mystery writer who's not only experiencing great success with her Home Crafting Mystery Series from Midnight Ink but now has a contract from Penguin for a brand new series.
In addition to her own website and blog linked below, Cricket also blogs at Inkspot with other Midnight Ink authors.
Welcome back, Cricket.
What Makes a Good Writing Workshop? by Cricket McRae, Guest Blogger
Thank you so much for hosting me, Pat!
As my fifth Home Crafting Mystery, Wined and Died, hits the shelves (and Kindles and Nooks), I’ve just finished the first Bewitching Bakery Mystery for Penguin and have begun work on Sophie Mae’s sixth adventure, Digging Up Darla. It’s a busy time, but I’m immensely grateful to be able to do this work.
I worked for a long time to get published, the standard ten years plus a bit, and during that time I spent a lot of time writing and a lot of time learning. Much of what I learned came from workshops and classes. Some were very helpful. Others, not so much. Here are a few tips for what I think makes a writing workshop useful and worthwhile.
Make sure the instructor knows that they’re talking about – and how to talk about it. This is perhaps the most important element of a good workshop. Not every writer knows how to teach well. And not all know exactly how they go about creating, but that may not stop them from trying to tell you. One of my favorite workshops ever was taught by Stewart Stern, who wrote the screenplay for Rebel Without a Cause and the teleplay for Sybil among a whole slew of other things. In three weekend intensives that lovely, eighty-something man pushed us so far into our stories and characters that I broke down and wept. Yes, that’s a good thing.
Good instructors couch criticism in a useful way, never put you down, make all the participants behave nicely, and encourage creativity. They answer questions, can handle writers of various skill levels, will examine your work and provide useful feedback.
Attend workshops and classes that are on your writing level and about your interests. If you are a beginner and take advanced classes you will learn – but not as much as you would if you were ready for those lessons. If you’ve written for years, taking a beginning class will be boring and you’ll feel like you’re wasting your time.
Regarding interests, one time I took a workshop from a highly lauded literary writer, and he wouldn’t even read my “genre submission” (said as if the phrase tasted like sour milk). I reported him to the writing organization who sponsored him and got my money back. On the other hand, I loved and learned from the Advanced Fiction Certificate classes at the University of Washington, and am still in contact with some of my fellow class members. Everyone there was serious about writing commercial, genre fiction.
Having said that, be willing to go outside your comfort level. Sometimes that means going outside your usual medium. If you write books, try taking a screen writing class. If you write fiction, try a class on narrative nonfiction. Some of the most beneficial things I learned about language, sensory detail, and atmosphere in writing came from a nature writing workshop that involved camping for three days in a yurt.
Be ready – and willing – to take criticism. It can be hard to hear, but criticism can be very, very helpful, and you can learn a lot from it. First, make sure you fully understand what the other person is saying so you can properly weigh its worth. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions to clarify what they mean. Then if you don’t like it, smile, nod and wait. Sometimes it’s taken me a full twenty-four hours of dwelling on someone’s feedback before I slap my forehead and mutter, “Dang it. She’s right.”
On the flip side of that, make your own decisions. Don’t take everything you’re told – by the instructor/leader or your fellow participants – as gospel. Only you can decide what is truly useful. Sometimes you’ll receive completely contradictory feedback! Again, clarify, wait, and then decide whether any of it is worth paying attention to.
And finally, participate. You’re paying money to learn, so jump in and share, give feedback, and take part in discussions. We all have different experiences and abilities. You can learn a lot from other workshop attendees – and they can learn a lot from you.
Care to share any of your writing workshop experiences? Any particularly fabulous ones? Any horror stories?
In honor of the recent release of Wined and Died, you can enter to win a free Author Website ($900 value!) from the creative folks at Bizango Websites for Writers until July 29, 2011. For more details and information on how to enter, please visit my blog, Hearth Cricket. For more information about me or the Home Crafting Mystery Series, check out my website.
Cricket, thanks so much for being here today. I'm looking forward to another good Sophie Mae read in Wined and Died.
This blog stop is part of Cricket's virtual tour for the new release. To find the posts at other stops and to see Cricket's list of appearances and book signings, visit the News and Events page at her website.